Why Apple may axe the 3.5mm headphone jack

“The folks from Cupertino have added headphones to the list of Made for iPhone devices that can plug in to an iOS device using the Lightning connector,” Marco Tabini writes for Macworld. “Such a development could mean that the headphone jack—a staple of mobile devices since the pre-smartphone era—is finally on its way out the door.”

“Before we all reach for the nearest pitchfork and torch, however, it’s worth exploring whether the removal of the jack from our devices would, in the long run, be a change for the better—after all, many similar technologies have, in the past, suffered a similar fate at the hands of Apple’s design team (remember the floppy disk drive?) in order to pave the way for even better replacements,” Tabini writes. “From this point of view, the most obvious reason for getting rid of the phone jack may simply be its age. Originally introduced in the 19th century to allow operators to quickly patch calls across the switchboards of the time, this ubiquitous connector is, as far as still-in-use technology goes, positively ancient.”

“While its existence may still make sense in an analog world, the jack adds little to the listening experience on today’s mobile devices, where all audio is generated digitally anyway. In fact, its presence is often the cause of many rather significant problems, and has gotten in the way of Apple’s design goals in the past,” Tabini writes. “Presumably… Apple would bundle newer devices with Lightning-connector earbuds, or—even better—a headphone jack-to-Lightning converter, making the transition a little less traumatic.”

Much more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take:

Death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. – Steve Jobs

As we wrote two weeks ago:

Bring. It. On.

Mac users are never wedded to old tech when there’s progress to be made.

Also, another good reason for the Beats buy. If Apple and Beats both change to Lightning headphones, the rest of the world will have to follow.

Of interest: Apple Inc.’s U.S. Patent No. 8,655,004: “Sports monitoring system for headphones, earbuds and/or headsets.”

Apple’s patent abstract: A monitoring system that can be placed proximate to the head or ear of a user is disclosed. According to one embodiment, the monitoring system can be used with headphones, earbuds or headsets. The monitoring system can, for example, be used to monitor user activity, such as during exercise or sporting activities. The positioning of the monitoring system can also facilitate sensing of other user characteristics (e.g., biometric data), such as temperature, perspiration and heart rate. The monitoring system can also be used to control a an electronic device. In one embodiment, the monitoring system facilitates user control of the electronic device using head gestures. More info here.

From your ear to your wrist in the blink of an eye™.

Related articles:
Apple may be poised to kill off the 3.5mm headphone jack – June 7, 2014
Apple may ditch analog 3.5mm headphone jack for Lightning to make thinner devices – June 6, 2014
Apple introduces MFi specs for Lightning cable headphones, iOS software update to deliver support – June 5, 2014
Apple preps HD audio for iOS 8 plus new Apple In-Ear Headphones and lightning cable – May 13, 2014
Apple patents biometric sensor-packed health monitoring earphones with ‘head gesture’ control – February 18, 2014
Apple paves way for more affordable iOS accessories with lower MFi and Lightning licensing fees – February 7, 2014

74 Comments

  1. This would be a PR DISASTER. There are hundreds of millions of headphones and buds that would no longer work or need an an adapter.

    Just look at the bad press Apple got when the changed the charging connector.

      1. There will be Apple bashing in the press no matter what they do.

        David might prefer using the shittier of the two connection just so Apple can avoid bad press, but I’d rather enjoy higher quality all-digital headphones. I see no point in using inferior tech just to try to other avoid other people’s bullshit.

        1. Analog is not automatically inferior to digital. In fact the digital signal has to be converted to analog before it can be converted into the mechanical energy those tiny speakers use to vibrate the air molecules, so there really is no such thing as an all-digital headphones.

          1. Agreed, but that doesn’t mean that the specific analog audio outs/DACs on Mac devices are all that great or will give the listener any of the possible advantages of an all-analog output, and it’s unlikely that Apple is interested in upping the quality on their DACs.

          2. Agreed.. I also wonder if the first earbuds that get created will be somewhat heavier than the analog counterparts due to having to add circuitry to take data from the lightning port and convert it to pulses of mechanical energy. Part of the package when you go from a relatively dedicated port to a more general use.

      2. Lightning connector is vastly superior to the 30pin USB connector it replaces, but the Analog headphone connectors are not obsolete. There is no reason to phase them out.

    1. Ridiculous. Just like other changes (dock connector to Lightning), Apple simply would sell a 3.5mm to Lightning adapter. Lightning earbuds would be included with new iPhones/iPods.

      And most importantly, Beats would sell Lightning headphones (along with standard 3.5mm for lesser phones).

      What we have not heard yet is whether using a Lightning connector for headphones would allow for more/better functions and sound transmission.

      1. I am all for advancing tech, but the idea of carrying around an adapter just to be able to plug into a car, or gym sound system, or a pair of computer speakers is a pain.

        I personally hope a headphone jack is still included for years to come. Patenting an idea doesn’t mean the old is going away.

    2. As someone who uses headphones on my morning jog and gym workouts, as someone who because of loose wises in the connection has to buy a new pair just about every year. I could give a f@CK. It’s not like today’s headphone jacks are that great or holy that anyone but 3.5″ jack manufacturers would care that much about.
      Who is this mysterious consumer that would be outraged?

    3. Well yes, but if Apple took too much notice of potential PR disasters, nothing would ever change.

      In fact, the Lightning connector is sooo much better than the old thing that I’ll likely swap my old-gen iPad just for that feature alone.

    4. Forget the press, Apple customers would be furious. The floppy is a dumb example. I don’t care how old it is, there’s nothing wrong with the 3.5mm headphone jack. Remember what happened when Apple tried to make a small change the 3.5mm headphone jack requiring a thinner plug, the public didn’t like it and Apple had to give in.
      Digital vs. analog? Really? He’s using that as an excuse? All digital signals have to be converted to analog at some point before they reach the speaker.
      Require another converter? Yea, I can’t tell you how appealing THAT sounds. Lightning was necessary because the Apple was having problems with the old connection, mainly because of cheep third party knockoffs that Apple was getting blamed for. The public isn’t having problems with their 3.5 and don’t want to deal with changing it.

      Bottom line, Apple isn’t stupid. It isn’t going to happen. This is just another writer without any inside information that needs to sell a story.

      1. Yeah, there IS something wrong with it. It’s thick. 1/8″ thick all by itself, not counting the jack it must be inserted into and the printed circuit board that jack must be mounted on. . . this thickness is a major stumbling block in design when you need to design a THINNER iPhone than the current model. If the screen is end-to-end and edge-to-edge and is a minimum 1/16″ thick with all its layers, the back is 1/32″ thick aluminum or Liquidmetal and you have to stick an earphone/audio/microphone jack that’s a minimum 3/16″ plus in there on a circuit board that’s another 1/32″ thick, you have to have a phone that’s 5/16″ thick to keep that plug! The only way to go thinner is to redesign the decrepit plug. . . or get rid of it entirely and go Blutooth for earbuds and all audio/microphones.

        1. How thin of a phone do you want? I want a phone thick enough to contain a battery with good capacity and materials with enough strength to prevent flexing. Realize that there’s a point of diminishing returns and the iPhone is getting awfully close especially now that the phones are getting larger. At this point trying to match the thinness of the iPod touch would be a mistake and it fits a 3.5 mm connector.

          1. Liquidmetal is remarkably rigid and strong. . . and there are alloys that can be stronger and stiffer than titanium. I work in a field where such metals are important. Vitalium—an alloy composed mostly of Cobalt, Chrome, and Molybdenum, for example, used in our Custom Osseous Integrated dental implants is stronger and far stiffer than titanium and the struts can be made 1/3 the size of Titanium struts for equal support of remarkable chewing forces in a mandible. Battery technology as implemented by Apple, uses every free volume available for battery cell placement. . . Thereby getting more energy packed in than other makers do by expanding size, the real driver of those huge screens. Larger batteries add weight. . . which I don’t want. I want a reasonably sized screen, with a thin profile that fits well in my shirt pocket and doesn’t bulge. 3/16″ to 1/4″ is ideal, and thinner is better to that point you mentioned. I don’t want to get iPhone cuts on my palms!

        2. Maybe they’ll get rid of the plug and just make an adapter like they did for the 30pin port. Though I do wonder how strong that lightning connector will be since it will be thinner and not completely metal like the audio plug it is replacing.

    1. I think it is more likely that headphones will migrate towards being wireless bluetooth rather than having a new wired technology introduced and one that has no discernible audio quality advantage.

  2. They should definitely include an adapter with purchase if they go this route. The change seems to offer additional benefits, so Apple shouldn’t hold back. However, including an adapter would quell most complaints.

  3. This isn’t like abandoning the floppy drive before PC makers did. The 3.5 mm is still a valuable standard connector.

    Also, mine have lasted for years and sometimes decades. Whatever replaces it will have to be durable. With Lightning connectors, I suspect the constant motion would make the connections go wobbly.

    1. I have had 3.5mm jacks get staticky and go bad, one in an iPod. And it is just like abandoning floppy drives, ADB/SCSI ports for USB, etc. The only difference is 3.5mm jacks have been around for decades and decades, but there was very little advancement in sound technology compared to computer technology. That is now changing with digital sound.

  4. There was similar Bad Press when Apple retired the 5.25″ floppy for the 3.5″ floppy disk, when they retired the floppy disk itself, when they retired the FireWire port, when they got rid of the CD-ROM drive from laptops, when they began retiring internal hard drives for internal flash drives, and when they didn’t make batteries removable from mobile devices. This is just another iteration of Apple’s desire to change. If they can make a persuasive argument that getting rid of the analog 3.5mm jack (which has been around since the 1950s, BTW, when the first transistor radios were sold in this country) will lead to improvements in audio quality and manufacturing design (e.g., no more damaged units from water seeping in through the headphone jack?), then people will adopt it. There will always be naysayers no matter what.

    1. Boy do I remember all the hand-wringing, crying, and cursing when the original iMac had USB, no floppy, and it was expected that software would be delivered on CD-ROM. People whined and cursed at having to buy an external floppy drive, buying an adapter for their printer, etc. etc.

      But they did. And now can anyone imagine computing without USB?

    2. You’re comparing apples to oranges. All the media formats mentioned had data limitations that made them obsolete as the need for more data increased. However, wired headphones will not sound discernibly better if the signal is delivered digitally thus the analog jack is not obsolete.

      1. True, but keep in mind Apple has not made any official announcement yet. All this is still speculation. And should Apple make this announcement, they still have to sell it. Not all of their changes or improvements have been well received: the Hockey Puck Mouse being one example.

      2. Didn’t any of you read the take?!? It’s not the audio they need to change it for. It’s so they can carry the data from biometric sensors in the ear buds, which presumably the 3.5 jack can’t do. That’s why they spent so much on beats, because it’s a strong sporting brand!

        1. Right, but how many people will want sensors in their headphones? I’m perfectly happy using the headphones to listen to audio files and talk on the phone. I don’t need any data lines and don’t want to pay extra for the technology that supports them.

          Analog is cheaper, simpler and the market is filled with every sort of headphone, from bargain basement earbuds to top-of-the-line professional models. I’m sure Apple and their developers are thinking up all kinds of clever sensors to stick in our ears, but unless someone cones up with something seriously compelling, I’m really not interested.

          Remember, the tech that Apple’s abandoned in the past has been because: a) storage limits have become too limiting, b) bandwidth limits have become too limiting, and c) moving to a (possibly new) industry standard would save cost or improve the user experience.

          Notice, Apple never abandoned USB when they added Firewire and then later when they abandoned Firewire for Thunderbolt. USB is still there because it’s a wildly popular industry standard and it works really well.

          The 3.5mm connector is so popular that it makes USB look like a loud, smelly drunk at a party. While I’m sure there are all kinds of people working on sensors to plug into the side s of our heads, those products will be perfect for the lightning connector. But for those of us who just want to listen to some music and talk on the phone, there’s not a single downside to sticking with the analog 3.5mm and a number of downsides to abandoning it. The 3.5MM connector will have a place on our iPhones for the foreseeable future and will live happily along side the lightning connector, because they solve different problems.

          And they bought Beats for their streaming service and music industry connections, their headphone manufacturing capabilities were just a bonus.

    3. The 5.25″ to 3.5″ jump increased capacity from 135K to 400K then to 800K. When computers started sporting HDDs and software began to come on countless floppies, dropping the floppy when a 650MB CD was available a no brainer.

      Replacing hard drives with SSDs makes sense. HDDs are delicate and prone to failure, heavy and draw a lot of current. SSDs make for lighter, faster, more efficient and more reliable computers, and the cost of SSDs has dropped to the point where they’re affordable.

      When Apple made batteries non-removable, they also increased capacity by about 40% and changed the design to more than triple the number of possible battery cycles.

      Notice that the Mac’s USB ports have survived the addition of Firewire and Thunderbolt.

      See a trend here? Apple changes things, sometimes dramatically and disruptively, but never stupidly. Changes always result in an improved user experience and are eventually copied by the rest of the industry. USB is still around because it’s very popular and removing it would have a very negative effect on user experience.

      The 3.5mm audio connector is a wildly popular industry standard, used on virtually every audio device made. Apple won’t abandon it in favor of a proprietary connector only used by them and incapable of passing analog signals. The 3.5mm will exist along side the lightning connector like USB existed along side Firewire. It’ll probably outlast lightning like USB outlasted Firewire.

  5. The only thing bad about this idea is that Apple would be moving from a widely-used format to one that’s proprietary. Of course, that can be solved by ensuring it’s available for (affordable) implementation amongst third parties.

    1. But a proprietary connector that Apple licenses to all comers who wish to make a product that meets Lightning compatibility standards. Very different from Apple’s behavior in the 1980s/1990s, when it kept its connectors to itself (mostly).

  6. It’ll never happen because Apple isn’t stupid enough to do this. They’ve abandoned certain pieces of hardware over the years but there’s always been a method to their madness. The 3.5mm audio plug is here to stay. It’s a simple, elegant and inexpensive solution to analog audio I/O. Using the lightning connector for audio may work for docks, auto adapters and high end headphones, but it’s a digital connector and doesn’t pass analog audio signals.

    Headphones would require a digital to analog converter for audio out, an analog to digital converter for the microphone input, plus audio amplifiers and power to run all this. Headphones would be heavier, bulkier and cost more. While this extra circuitry can be hidden in a set of largish headphones and the phone can supply power, what about the ubiquitous earbuds (or EarPods)? How would all of the necessary electronics be incorporated while still keeping them small, light and inexpensive?

    Apple may use the lightning connector to pass digital audio signals, but they’ll never lose the 3.5mm analog connector. Apple isn’t in the habit of making things more complex and more expensive when there’s no upside to it.

    1. You can’t be serious. Apple has all of the circuitry, converters and amplifiers necessary already in a current iPhone 3.5mm jack, so why would any adapter need to be bulkier or why would headphones need to be heavier? All the adapter would be doing is taking the digital-to-analog conversion and putting it into an external adapter; all of the amplifiers, etc. would still be in the iPhone (used for the Lightning headphones).

      I’m very sure Apple has thought this through and has these “problems” solved better than you.

      1. You’re right, all the circuitry is already in the phone. Unfortunately, the results of having all that circuitry won’t do you any good because the lightning connector is all digital. All it can pass is ones, zeros and power. There’s nothing to hear other than a buzz. If you want to reap the benefits of the hardware in the phone, then you need… (gasp) …an analog audio port!

          1. How would you get analog audio through the connector? All the adapters that I’ve seen used to allow devices with lightning ports to work with audio hardware designed to work with the old 30 pin connectors have a 3.5mm plug in addition to the lightning plug.

    2. @mpias3785,

      I agree with you that Apple isn’t going to do this any time soon. But there is a simple solution for dealing with analog audio through Lightning. All Apple has to do is pin-sensor the “Lightning II” port and if it’s the pins of the Lightning to 3.5mm adapter, then output analog audio on a set of the pins.

      The Lightning II port would be compatible in every way with existing Lightning accessories, and anyone with a current “Lightning I” device wouldn’t need to use the adapter since they already have a 3.5mm port.

      So while that is doable, it doesn’t resolve a couple of other issues. One, similar to what Montex said above, that unlike other examples, this wouldn’t be a change from one standard to a proprietary one that is better.

      The other issue is that the camera is still considerably thicker than the 3.5mm port.

      1. That would work, but AFAIK, nothing like this is in the works. One thing that people aren’t taking into consideration is that the lightning connector, while a great connector, hasn’t even been in use for two years and its long term reliability is still an unknown, especially when used under the tough conditions that a headphone connector would encounter, as opposed to mostly stationary use as a charging/syncing cable.

        While I can see it being used with high end headphones, especially if sensors are involved, I don’t see any benefit of using the lightning connector over the simpler 3.5mm when just connecting basic earbuds. The cost to the consumer would be higher simply because of licensing fees, the cost of the connector and the inevitable price hike just because it’s a nonstandard product. Gone will be the days of grabbing a pair for $5 at the news stand just before a flight because your regular headphones are in your checked luggage.

  7. All 4 of my iPods have trouble with the headphone plug, pretty much from day one. If it’s not plugged in just right, the remote play/pause button doesn’t work. Or it will start to play then immediately stop. Juggling the headphone plug is necessary to fix it. So I say, good riddance.

  8. What an idiotic statement:

    …The jack adds little to the listening experience on today’s mobile devices, where all audio is generated digitally anyway

    IOW: Let’s hook up our Lightening jack headphones and listen to pure, source, digital NOISE.
    1000101110110010010100111101010010010
    Yeah, that’s progressive technology.

    Stupid article. Just stupid. I doubt this guy understands the tech he’s writing about or the consequences of locking out phono jacks from iOS gear or the clunkiness of a Lightening-to-phone adapter. Filler filler filler… paycheck.

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